A former high-ranking Sudanese official wanted for war crimes says he has been released from prison as conflict between warring generals fuels chaos and uncertainty over the whereabouts of the country’s ousted dictator.
Ahmed Haroun and other members of former warlord Omar al-Bashir’s government were being held in Kober prison in the country’s capital, Khartoum. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Haroun, who led the ruling National Congress Party, said he and other former al-Bashir officials had left the facility and would take responsibility for their own protection, in a statement broadcast on Sudan’s Tayba TV on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Haroun said they would be willing to appear before the judiciary as long as it is working,
A ceasefire between the two armed groups fighting for control of Africa’s third-largest country appeared to largely hold on Wednesday. The fighting has seen millions of people caught in the crossfire and sent many, including Americans, running as it threatens to escalate into a civil war.
The Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces ousted al-Bashir from power during mass protests in 2019, only to later stage a coup that derailed the country’s transition to democracy.
As speculation raged that the country’s former leader may have been among those released from prison, the military said they had him in custody.
The army said in a statement Wednesday morning that al-Bashir and other former officials had been detained at a military-run medical center due to their health conditions «before the rebellion broke out» at Kober prison.
Haroun was not among those in custody.
The officials said they were sharing the whereabouts of al-Bashir and other former officials «as a deterrent to the mass disinformation that some rebel media mikes have been promoting to distract people.»
Citing two sources at the hospital, Reuters reported that al-Bashir had been transferred from Kober prison to a military hospital before heavy fighting broke out on April 15.
The army accused the RSF of wearing military uniforms and attacking the prison, according to the Associated Press, saying they released the inmates and ransacked the facility. The RSF, led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, denied the allegations, saying the military «forcibly evacuated» the facility as part of a plan to restore al-Bashir to power, the news agency reported.
NBC News has not verified the claims by either party.
Haroun was one of dozens of Sudanese officials arrested in 2019 after al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades, was ousted in a military coup amid a popular uprising.
More than 450 people have died since fighting broke out this month, according to the World Health Organization, including at least two Americans.
The US military evacuated embassy staff over the weekend, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the US was considering whether to resume a diplomatic presence in Sudan to help the US citizens to escape the fighting. He said the State Department was in contact with private US citizens to provide assistance.
Charlene Gubash, Associated Press and Reuters contributed.